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Padilla Wants to Postpone Adding Police

Council president's proposal, sparked by worries about budget shortfalls, outrages the mayor and police chief.

May 14, 2003|Jessica Garrison and Matea Gold | Times Staff Writers

Los Angeles City Council President Alex Padilla said Thursday that the city should delay Mayor James K. Hahn's proposal to expand the police force until the city's financial picture becomes clearer.

Padilla, a longtime Hahn ally, billed his plan to postpone boosting the number of officers for at least six months as a compromise to break the stalemate between the mayor and the council's Budget and Finance Committee, whose members have expressed alarm over projected shortfalls that could reach $280 million by next year.

Padilla's proposal calls for the city to set aside money to pay for the 320 new police officers that Hahn wants to hire.

If the city's fiscal health is sound in January, then officials could authorize the additional hiring, Padilla said. If not, all police hiring might have to come to a stop. In the meantime, the Police Department would hire only enough officers this summer and fall to replace those who retire or leave.

In the mayor's office, where officials have insisted that next year's budget is balanced and the dire forecasts are speculative, the proposal was greeted with outrage.

"Your proposal jeopardizes our public safety goals and hinders efforts to make the streets of Los Angeles safer," Hahn wrote in a letter to Padilla on Tuesday.

"I would urge you to reverse course and join me in working to increase our police force to adequate levels."

Police Chief William J. Bratton called Padilla's proposal "extraordinarily disappointing."

"It's inconceivable to me that finally, when we have a Police Department that's moving forward instead of going backward ... that you would literally want to kneecap it by stopping the hiring momentum," he said.

The mayor's office said Hahn would veto the plan if it reaches his desk and accused Padilla of not supporting public safety.

"We do have a commitment to public safety," Padilla responded. "But we also have a commitment to fiscal responsibility."

In a letter to city officials Tuesday, Padilla said the financial plan Hahn laid out for next year "takes the city of Los Angeles in the direction of an intractable, structural deficit."

Padilla's letter comes as the council budget committee wraps up three weeks of hearings about Hahn's proposed $5.1-billion budget, during which the five-member panel has wrestled with forecasts that Los Angeles could face shortfalls that could total $1 billion over the next five years.

In addition to delaying police hiring, Padilla is proposing that some of the money for a host of other items, from street paving to sidewalk repair, be set aside and the decision on whether to spend it postponed. His letter did not spell out the specifics of how much the proposals would save; instead, it asked the budget committee to work out the details.

"What I've tried to propose is a responsible middle ground," Padilla said, adding that many on the council "have a fundamental difference of opinion" with the mayor's office over whether the shortfall projections are cause for concern.

The compromise plan received a mixed reaction from Padilla's council colleagues Tuesday afternoon.

"I liked the ideas he talked about," Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski said.

"I think it's a good starting point, and I'm glad the council president interjected himself," budget committee Chairman Nick Pacheco said.

Councilman Eric Garcetti, however, said he would be reluctant to support a budget proposal that would roll back the mayor's police hiring goals. "For me personally, I'd like to find a way to put officers on the street," he said.

Councilman Jack Weiss said he supports Padilla's proposal, which he said is in line with the approach being discussed by the budget committee.

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